Heikki Kovalainen was clearly delighted to have made the podium after a chaotic Japanese Grand Prix, but admits that there were more personal reasons for his joy.

Second place, between Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen, was the Finn's best result since graduating to the top flight, and came 731 days - two years and a day -
after his last podium, at the penultimate round of the 2005 GP2 series championship in Bahrain. However, it wasn't the points that brought the biggest smile to his face, rather the fact that the end of the season is in such direct contrast to the start.

"The thing I am happiest about this season is that I managed to turn the situation around," he confirmed, "At the start, there were a lot of mistakes and I think people were both surprised and a bit worried for me. But I kept my head down, worked with the team, took their advice on board, and I stayed confident that eventually it would come good.

"And now I am back to a normal situation with my driving, the results are coming, and that is a big satisfaction. I hope it shows some of my strengths and proves that, when I have the opportunity to score podiums each weekend, I am mentally and physically strong enough to do it."

In a year dominated by Ferrari and McLaren, Kovalainen became only the second driver from any other team to make it onto the second step of the podium, and joined the select list of Nick Heidfeld, Alex Wurz and Mark Webber to break the podium monopoly.

"I am very happy for the team, they deserve this result," he admitted after his seventh straight points finish netted Renault's first podium of the season, "They have been used to winning championships in the last two years, so it has been a tough season, but everybody has worked incredibly hard. I am really pleased for all the guys.

"I came into the year hoping for more regular podiums, and have been wanting this since Melbourne, but I think this was a good way to do it - in difficult conditions, at a tricky race, fighting all the way to the end and beating Ferrari in a straight fight. I am very happy with my race."

The result also continued Kovalainen's remarkable record of being classified in each of the races in his debut season, and he appears to be among the minority who thought that it was right to let the racing get underway.

"I think it was one of the wettest races I have ever been in, and I think it was correct to start behind the safety car, but it was also the right decision to start the race when we did," he claimed, "It was very wet, but they were raceable conditions."

Kovalainen and Raikkonen created another little bit of history by becoming the first Finns to share an F1 podium, and the battle between enlivened the closing stages of an already interesting race.

"I just knew I had to give everything I could to keep him behind," the Renault man grinned, "He was closing on me - I could see the gap closing on the pit-board - but then he was stuck at about 0.7s or 0.8s behind me, so I knew he wasn't just going to drive past me. The car was aquaplaning a lot, but I tried to find the driest line and just concentrate on making no mistakes.

"My mirrors had completely misted up from about half distance, and that meant I couldn't defend the position. I just had to drive my own race and push all the way. Looking back, perhaps it was better because it forced him to take the risks, rather than me defending the position too much and making a mistake. His move on the last lap was a complete surprise for me, but I knew I had braked late for turn six, so for sure he had braked too late. He missed the apex, so I got him back on the exit of the corner, and kept my foot flat all he way to turn ten. After that, I felt pretty confident for the final part of the lap.

"I never thought until afterwards, but it was a proud moment to be up there [on the podium], especially with Kimi, because he is one of the top guys, I have a lot of respect for him and, on Sunday, I beat him!"

Despite making a breakthrough on Sunday, Kovalainen insisted that there would be no wild celebrations with another race just a week away.

"I'll 'celebrate' with a debrief and some time in the gym before Shanghai!" he laughed, "We are racing again on Sunday, so we need to learn what we can from this weekend, and start again. It sounds pretty boring, I know, but I want to do my preparation properly, give myself the best chance next week - and make sure we can get the same advantage again, if we are faced with the same conditions.

"I am not getting carried away, and obviously the result today owed something to the conditions, but I do believe that, in dry conditions at Monza and Spa, you didn't see the full potential of the car. We looked good on Friday at Fuji too, and Shanghai is a similar kind of medium downforce track. We cannot fight for podiums in the dry, but we don't need wet weather to get strong results.

"I think we can race BMW at the last two races, and do that ahead of the midfield teams. Hopefully, we can turn our potential into results in the next three weeks."



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